How’s it going?
I could ask how your week has gone since we spoke last, but I suspect it would be difficult to give one answer to describe the whole week. I feel like wellbeing is measured in hours or even moments right now. I’ve been all over the map this week.
Last week, I told you about my first major crisis of the crisis. I was in Costa Rica trying to figure out how to get my family home. I was fretting and what I needed was some semi-strenuous exercise to clear my mind. Craig whisked me off on a jungle hike. That measure matched the moment and created a bit of a breakthrough for me.
But back home, I’m finding it challenging. I’m ruminating too much. I’m listening to the voice inside my head and, frankly, she’s gone a bit flaky. Totally not trustworthy… I fear she’s feeding me fake news.
Enter my friend Liz Kislik. We were on a web call Friday, ostensibly talking about our clients and our work, when we got talking about how most people are terrible at expressing their needs. (I was talking about OTHER people, of course!) Liz mentioned a 3-minute TED talk by Laura Trice that addressed exactly this issue. I decided I would watch the TED talk and write today’s post about how important it is to tell folks (colleagues, managers, partners, children) what you need from them and not expect them to somehow, magically, know.
I watched the video (go ahead and have a watch). I really liked Laura’s question. “Why don’t we ask for the things that we need?” I agreed with her that it is so backward that we can be so clear about our needs in some domains, for example “I like my steak medium-rare,” or “I take size 6 shoes,” but we won’t ask for the more important things we need to be effective, to feel seen or valued.
And then I realized…I suck at this.
I am NOT the person to tell you how to do this.
Instead, the best I can do is to tell you what I’m going to start working on. If you too are bad at expressing what you need, join me, write to me, commiserate with me, tell me what works, tell me what doesn’t. We’ve found another thing to get better at during this crisis.
Here’s my plan
Multiple times a day, stop and ask, what am I feeling right now? What thoughts are circling my head? How do I feel in my gut? Are my palms sweating, is my heart racing? What’s causing that?
Mind the Gap
Each time I find evidence that something’s off kilter, I’m going to try to identify the gap. What’s missing? What itch needs scratched? Is there something that could be added to make me feel better? What am I not getting that I need?
There are many possible gaps you might find. Perhaps most projects are ticking along fine but there’s an important issue your team has been neglecting. Maybe the discussions have been all about employees and not enough about customers. If you’re working remotely, it’s possible that one team member has gone quiet and you’re feeling anxious because of a lack of update. (Can this be the time that we get rid of the expression ‘no news is good news’ once and for all?) Whatever it is, identify where there’s a deficiency that’s contributing to your stress levels.
It’s worth saying that every one of these disciplines applies just as much to your relationships with family and friends. What are you not getting from your family that would make all the difference right now?
Add it Up
I will also consider the other possibility, that it’s not that anything’s missing but that there’s too much of something. What do I need less of? What ballast is weighing me down?
In the first couple of weeks of lockdown, you might have needed meetings once, twice, or even three times a day. But now that we’re settling into the new routine, is that cadence still right? Maybe it’s overload. Are you getting updates on all parts of your organization when you really just need to focus on your own? If the stress and distraction is making it harder (or at least slower) to get things done, maybe you just need less information, fewer tasks, more streamlined conversations.
Find the Rub
The final thing I’m going to think about is what’s bugging me. What’s chafing? What’s creating resentment that’s making the already difficult situation worse? Are there things my clients, friends, or family are doing that are making it harder for me?
Differences in style and focus can be annoying at the best of times but in this strange new reality, they might be the difference between keeping it together and losing it. Is a colleague being too saccharine? Or maybe too matter of fact? Are your boss’ three-word emails adding unnecessary ambiguity? Are you being included in way too many conversations? Or way too few? None of these friction points is about right versus wrong. It’s not that operating one way or the other is going to save or scuttle your business. That said, once you’re out of the most immediate crisis zone, spending some time focused on how things are getting done is time well spent.
I know that just having these conversations with myself will be helpful. Having some insight about what’s contributing to my mental state will be beneficial in and of itself. For some, simply reframing my own thinking will solve the problem.
Even though there’s benefit in those steps, the massive opportunity lies in going to the next step—in having the courage to let those around you have a chance at meeting your needs. Sadly, we tend not to express what we need. Instead, we fall victim to what I refer to in The Good Fight as the “Valentine’s Day effect.” The Valentine’s Day effect is when you create unnecessary animosity by holding expectations of others that you don’t communicate.
Ask for What You Need
What if you told someone? Yup, instead of having the conversation over and over again with your unreliable narrator, what if you told the person who could actually do something to make it better? Instead of letting the poison of resentment add to your current woes, what if you asked someone to help you fill the gaps? Who could you talk to about having fewer of the things that are sinking you? When is the opportune moment to mention the impact someone’s style is having and to ask if modifications are possible? What if you used this opportunity to improve your communication, to strengthen your connection, and to allow others to contribute to your well-being? Seems like there’s never been a better time.
This week, I’m going to stay connected to where I’m at. If where I’m at isn’t a good spot, I’m going to figure out what I need to make it better and I’m going to ask for it. How about you?